Jihadist Networks Dig In on Social Media Across Central Asia

By Robert Muggah, Kumar Bekbolotov, Rafal Rohozinski

Published in the Foreign Policy

Central Asia was long a digital backwater. Over the past decade, however, the region’s five republics—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—underwent a rapid digital transformation. High-speed fiber connections, mobile phones, and social media are widespread, while online services and tech hubs are proliferating. Yet the internet, as always, is a double-edged sword: As more Central Asians get online, they are being exposed to sophisticated extremist content in their native languages—and facing serious risks of radicalization.

Global jihadist movements have established a foothold in the region. Terrorist cells with links to Central Asia were purportedly behind attacks in New York and St. Petersburg in 2017, Stockholm in 2018, and Istanbul in 2019. Central Asian governments have struggled to contain organized terrorist activities, especially after several thousand battle-tested foreign fighters returned from campaigns in war-torn Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Part of the reason they are so hard to control is because many Central Asian extremists have migrated online.

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